When Chris and I were planning out our Florida trip we knew we wanted to go paddling somewhere. It was a tie between the Loxahatchee River, one of Florida’s two National Wild and Scenic Rivers, or Fisheating Creek. Fisheating Creek was at the top of our list but the shuttle service to complete one of the runs came with stipulations that the water levels had to be at a certain height for them to drop us off. Unfortunately when Chris called the water was lower than needed for us to do that run, and while we could have paddled downstream or even upstream a certain length and got out and walked, we opted for the Loxahatchee River instead. (Older photos of a trip on the Lox).
We were on our layover in Tampa when we thought about asking our friend Tom to join us on the paddle, as we knew he was retired and was always out and about exploring natural areas in his neck of the woods. By the time we got to Ft. Lauderdale we had made contact with him and he was game to go. Unfortunately the place we were going to rent our canoe from was closed on Wednesdays but it worked out as Tom had extra kayaks he could bring for us to use. We met at Riverbend Park, the upstream launch site for running the river, and chatted as we gathered up our gear for the paddle trip. We hadn’t seen Tom in four years so it was nice to catch up on life and goings on in the area.
After launching out into the river, Tom thought it would be better if we did the kayaking trails that are inside of the park instead of staying directly on the river itself. The river was flowing well and paddling back up stream would have been rough. There are approximately five miles of paddling trails inside of the park, including a section of trail that Tom said he believed was the old river. Map here. The Loxahatchee further north from where we launched is channelized and more canal-like, not in its natural riverine state.
The first of many encounters with island apple snail egg clusters. I didn’t see a single native apple snail egg cluster in the park!
Freshly deposited eggs straight from the snail herself! The invasive island apple snail has caused a bit of a problem in a lot of ecosystems in Florida. Part of the problem is the Everglades snail kite, a highly endangered raptor that lives in south Florida. Their predominant diet includes the native apple snails and when the invasive snails began overtaking the native populations there was great fear that the juvenile birds wouldn’t be able to handle the size of the snail and would end up starving due to lack of a food source. That was four years ago and I thought this was still the case but before I left for Florida I was reading up on general Florida invasives and found a bird blog that mentioned that the snail kites were actually rebounding in recent years, supposedly in part to the island apple snail. I was a bit dubious about this claim but it was echoed by our friend Tom who also said that the limpkin populations were also devouring the snails. When we asked if there was any big plan for trying to eradicate the invasive snail Tom thought that they were sort of on hold on that issue due to the snail kites actually eating the exotic snails as well as the beneficial use by the limpkins. Definitely a predicament, but Tom didn’t feel any ounce of guilt by swiping any egg clusters he saw with his paddle, smooshing them into the water!
We briefly pondered actually paddling downstream on the river to the first spillway but after paddling up the channelized portion to see a house that was made out of shipping containers, we decided that the flow was not worth trying to find getting back afterwards. Plus, Chris and I wanted to head to a local start park for a few minutes before heading back to our hotel for the evening. In all, it was a wonderful paddle! I certainly miss this area of Florida and I think if I were to move back to Florida I’d chose the Treasure Coast or SW Florida as a place to reside.